Slavery and the U.S. Supreme Court: The Amistad Case

Description

On June 28, 1839, the schooner La Amistad set sail from Havana, Cuba, setting off a series of events that would have international and historical consequences. On board the schooner were 53 Africans who had been abducted from West Africa and sold in violation of international law. Their intended fate was enslavement on plantations down coast from Havana. On the third day out, the Africans revolted and ordered that the ship be guided toward the rising sun back to Africa, but each night the Cuban plantation owners who had purchased them from Havana’s slave market and survived the uprising changed course. Zigzagging for two months, the ship eventually was brought by northerly winds and currents to Long Island. Intercepted by the United States Navy, the Africans were jailed and charged with piracy and murder. In New York City, a group of Christian abolitionists, headed by Lewis Tappan, formed a defense committee. Attorney Roger Sherman Baldwin, with help from former President John Quincy Adams, took the case to the United States Supreme Court, which ruled in March 1841 that the Africans were free. This digital collection is comprised of correspondence, dating from 1839-1841, by abolitionists, pro-slavery advocates, governmental officials, and the Amistad Africans themselves, related to the development of efforts to provide legal assistance to the Africans. The resulting trials in the U.S. court system; the political interests on the part of the United States, Cuba, and Spain; and the personal experiences of the imprisoned Africans are detailed in these letters, which are housed in the archives of the American Missionary Association, an abolitionist missionary organization that grew out of the Amistad Committee’s efforts.

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Letter from Elisabeth T. Philbrook to Lewis Tappan
A donation letter from Elisabeth Philbrook to Lewis Tappan pledging support for the Amistad Captives., reference@amistadresearchcenter.org
Letter from Ellis Gray Loring to Lewis Tappan
A donation letter from Ellis Gray Loring pledging support for the Amistad Captives., reference@amistadresearchcenter.org
Letter from Ellis Gray Loring to Lewis Tappan
A letter with enclosed correspondence from John Quincy Adams to the Amistad Committee [enclosure not present]. In the letter, Ellis Gray Loring asks for a response to Adams' questions. Loring questions Judge Thomson's opinion regarding habeas corpus and suggests publication of a speech against "claiming salvage in human beings" in a "newspaper of considerable circulation.", reference@amistadresearchcenter.org
Letter from Ellis Gray Loring to Lewis Tappan
A letter in which Ellis Gray Loring explains that he did not take the Spanish Consul's deposition because immediately upon receiving Lewis Tappan's Letter, the news came of Judge Judson's decision. Loring supposes that in order to take the deposition he must have a commission from the Court or else give not to the "adverse party." He makes it known that George S. Hillard is a U.S. Master in Chancery and a good man. It is requested that Tappan consult with Theodore Sedgwick; he is then informed that Loring has written Roger S. Baldwin regarding the matter., reference@amistadresearchcenter.org
Letter from Ellis Gray Loring to Lewis Tappan
A letter from Ellis Gray Loring thanking Lewis Tappan for sending minutes of legal proceedings in Hartford and stating he has authorization from his board [possibly the New England Anti-Slavery Society] to send Robert Rantoul Jr. to speak with President Martin Van Buren regarding the Amistad Captives. He suggests that Tappan write to "the British member of the mixed commission" in Cuba to seek input on Spanish law. Loring also seeks to help find an interpreter for the Amistad Captives., reference@amistadresearchcenter.org
Letter from Ellis Gray Loring to Lewis Tappan
A donation letter from Ellis Gray Loring on behalf of various individuals pledging support for the Amistad Captives. In his letter, Loring writes that he has settled with Septimus Stocking for Arthur Tappan & Company and has appended a copy of a February 19, 1841, letter from Nathaniel J. Bowditch. Bowditch, who writes that he has read documents related the Amistad Case and is gratified to know that John Quincy Adams is acting as counsel, sends ten dollars as a donation., reference@amistadresearchcenter.org
Letter from Emmor Kimber to Lewis Tappan
A letter from Emmor Kimber pledging five dollars in support of the Amistad Captives. Kimber expresses his thoughts regarding the "Petitions to Legislative Assemblies" and suggests petitions be signed by offices of the American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society. He explains that such petitions "might give new views of the motives and objects of Abolitionists" and suggests that they "might be printed in the newspapers." He encourages all local anti-slavery societies undertake such petitions., reference@amistadresearchcenter.org
Letter from Ephraim Smith to Lewis Tappan
A donation letter from Ephraim Smith pledging support for the Amistad Captives., reference@amistadresearchcenter.org
Letter from Esther Moore to Lewis Tappan
A donation letter from Esther Moore to Lewis Tappan pledging support for the Amistad Captives., reference@amistadresearchcenter.org
Letter from F. Knight to Lewis Tappan
A letter from Franklin Knight, Assistant Secretary of the American Colonization Society, offering a copy of an English language edition of a work by Rene Caillie regarding his travels in Timbuktu, to be used "at the service of the Committee.", reference@amistadresearchcenter.org
Letter from F. Wayland to Lewis Tappan
A letter from Francis Wayland, President of Brown University, offering his suggestions in respect to the Amistad Case. Wayland states that this is the most important case to come before a court and that it must consider the question of whether "an African is a man" and, therefore, entitled to rights. He suggests that the Amistad Committee consider including a member who is not an abolitionist and to publish the "results & doings" of the committee in the non-abolitionist press. If the case is to come before the Supreme Court, the committee should consider to employ counsel from "a more southern district.", reference@amistadresearchcenter.org
Letter from Foole to Lewis Tappan
Transcription in unknown hand of a letter from Foole to Lewis Tappan., reference@amistadresearchcenter.org
Letter from Foole to Lewis Tappan
Transcription: Dear Sir, Mr Tappan in New York, I desire to write you a letter because I love you very much indeed Dear friend I called my Dear father because you be so kind to poor mandi people I will pray for you every Day God bless you and your wife and your children and all them god [illegible] of them because you love poor menda people and we love you too and I will to pray for you every day and in the night while and you think about menda people If you may think of them they living bad place no no and we are living beautiful place [illegible] kind friend [illegible] and have [illegible] things my dear friend I sent you love to your children and all of them and I love them very much I will to pray for the them and because have it great business for menda people and my friend but if you will to love Jesus Christ and Christ will may bless you and all your children of them and suppose you must let us go home and tell them about you and have you [illegible] to do for them and I hope they will to pray for you and I love you very much indeed and I am very glad to save your writing a few year ago and when I save that it will I glad to see it an I wanted you [illegible] must worte me a letter where James Covey was now? I say must wanted know whee he was and I love you very much and this from your friend, Foole., reference@amistadresearchcenter.org
Letter from George Burgess to Roger Baldwin
A letter regarding George Burgess acquaintance with a man in Hartford, Connecticut, who is a native of the Gold Coast, and the possibility of his service as an interpreter for the Amistad Captives., reference@amistadresearchcenter.org
Letter from George Cary to Lewis Tappan
A donation letter from George Cary on behalf of the Colored Citizens of Cincinnati pledging support for the Amistad Captives. In his letter, Cary includes a statement of thanks that was adopted at a recent meeting., reference@amistadresearchcenter.org
Letter from George E. Day to Lewis Tappan
A letter from George E. Day thanking Lewis Tappan for sending books and cards to aid in the instruction of English for the Amistad Captives. The letter includes Day's report on their progress and states there is no evidence that Cinque had been involved in the slave trade in Africa. Day goes on to discuss a newspaper article about the interpreters bringing knives to the Captives., reference@amistadresearchcenter.org
Letter from George E. Day to Lewis Tappan
A letter requesting "pictures of single objects" to aid in the teaching of English to the Amistad Captives. George E. Day reports that the Africans "manifest as much intelligence as any promiscuous collection of white men.", reference@amistadresearchcenter.org
Letter from George E. Day to Lewis Tappan
George E. Day has received a "book of drawings" and has consulted with a group of gentleman regarding the question of publishing a narrative of the Amistad Captives. In his letter, Day questions whether such a narrative would do "more harm than good," stating that James Covey is valuable as a translator in certain ways, but not others, and that a narrative may not be accurate in his opinion. Day mentions the extent of time he, Mr. Griswold, and Mr. Learner [?] have spent with the Amistad Captives and that the Captives continue to show interest in the instruction they receive. Josiah W. Gibbs encloses a communication [not present] of stories about Cinque which have been "much laid to rest.", reference@amistadresearchcenter.org
Letter from George M. Rice to Lewis Tappan
A donation letter from George M. Rice pledging support for the Amistad Captives., reference@amistadresearchcenter.org

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